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Sun May 26, 2013, 12:45 PM

How Uganda's female writers found their voice

It was only as an adult that Lamwaka found a way to express what she had been through and it came in the form of short stories. "The only way I could deal with it was to write the stories we hadn't been able to tell," she explains.

Lamwaka, 35, is one of a new wave of Ugandan fiction writers. Her work has been published in several anthologies and she has been nominated for several international prizes. The tale of her brother's abduction inspired a powerful short story called "Butterfly Dreams", in which a young girl is abducted by the LRA: "You caressed your scars as if to tell us what you went through," Lamwaka writes. "We did not ask questions."

Lamwaka says she has only had the confidence to turn her experiences into fiction because of the pioneering work of Femrite, an NGO established in Uganda in 1995 to promote and publish women's writing. Until that point, the literary scene in the country had been limited – publishing houses preferred to print profitable textbooks than novels that didn't sell – and what there was of it was dominated by men.

Femrite has changed all that. The organisation holds regular writing workshops and residential retreats, as well as running its own publishing arm, and is one of numerous organisations in developing countries working with Commonwealth Writers, a development foundation in the UK, which aims to unearth and nurture less-heard voices from across the Commonwealth; it also awards an annual prize for a best unpublished short story worth £5,000. The winner of the 2013 Commonwealth Short Story prize will be announced this week by John le Carré at the Hay festival.


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